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Expert Advice: How to Organize the Kitchen the French Way

The Cook's Atelier tableware and glassware.

Danielle Postel-Vinay’s book, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home, focuses on how and why the domestic arts are different in France. Room by room, Postel-Vinay, who became a Francophile after marrying into a French family, dissects what makes a space distinctively French. In her chapter on le cuisine, she notes that the kitchen is a home’s “brain”—“a functional room that brings systematic logic, order, and skill together in one technical space.” It is highly ordered, practical, and, by design, lacking in extraneous, fussy decoration. Here is an excerpt from that chapter—her tips on keeping the kitchen efficient and organized, the French way.

N.B.: Featured image is by Anson Smart, courtesy of The Cook’s Atelier.

1. Your kitchen is a workspace.

Remove everything that isn’t meant for supporting the work of cooking.

When you prioritize utilitarianism over decoration, the counterintuitive result can be beautiful. Here, a row of chef’s knives and a cluster of cutting boards are artfully arranged. Photograph by Emily Johnston, from A Year in Burgundy: The Cook’s Atelier in Beaune.
Above: When you prioritize utilitarianism over decoration, the counterintuitive result can be beautiful. Here, a row of chef’s knives and a cluster of cutting boards are artfully arranged. Photograph by Emily Johnston, from A Year in Burgundy: The Cook’s Atelier in Beaune.

2. Your kitchen and your tools must be in working order.

Repair or replace anything that breaks. Sharpen knives. Replace missing measuring cups. Throw out old tea towels and ripped rags.

3. Your cupboards require taxonomy.

Organize glasses by type, brand, size, and function, and have the same number of each type. Do the same with dishes.

A perfect example of storing like with like. Photograph by Emily Johnston, from A Year in Burgundy: The Cook’s Atelier in Beaune.
Above: A perfect example of storing like with like. Photograph by Emily Johnston, from A Year in Burgundy: The Cook’s Atelier in Beaune.

4. Your drawers should be orderly.

Institute extreme organization of your kitchen drawers. Create a simple, clean system for organizing storage containers, kitchen utensils, and napkins, and remove all items that don’t serve you. Be relentless.

5. Embrace emptiness in your refrigerator.

Buy fresh food and ingredients as needed instead of buying in bulk and creating possibilities for waste.

The Cook's Atelier in Beaune Teaching Kitchen
Above: Make your meals reliant on fresh produce, purchased daily or every few days, and your refrigerator will feel far less cluttered. Photograph by Anson Smart, courtesy of The Cook’s Atelier.

6. Your pantry should always have a few essentials.

Olive oil, jam, mustard, pickles are musts. Keep your pantry stocked as the French do. Or, if you have your favorite items, always keep a small supply on hand.

7. Your guiding principle is mise en place.

The ritual of putting everything in its place is the engine of your kitchen. Assign every object a place. And keep it there.

Excerpted from Home Sweet Maison by Danielle Postel-Vinay. Copyright ©2018 by Danielle Postel-Vinay. Reprinted by permission of Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow.

Looking for more French inspiration? Be sure to read:

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